The 20 Best Shel Silverstein Quotes

As referenced in American Songwriter’s previous Shel Silverstein story, here, Silverstein has had a major impact on the world of country music, from working with artists like Waylon Jennings, Judy Collins, Loretta Lynn, Johnny Cash, and Jerry Lee Lewis.

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Born on September 25, 1930, in Chicago proper, Silverstein had a major impact on music. He’s also a legendary children’s book author, penning influential works like The Giving TreeWhere the Sidewalk Ends, and A Light in the Attic

Silverstein, who studied at the Chicago College of Performing Arts at Roosevelt University, has a musical output that includes many tunes for other artists. Songs that have had major success include “Hey Loretta” for Lynn and “A Boy Named Sue” for Cash.

But what did the prolific and acclaimed writer have to say about life and love, his many crafts, and the world at large?

Here are the best 20 Shel Silverstein quotes.

1. “Comfortable shoes and the freedom to leave are the two most important things in life.

2. “If you’re behind the times, they won’t notice you. If you’re right in tune with them, you’re no better than they are, so they won’t care much for you. Be just a little ahead of them.”

3. “If you want to find out what a writer or a cartoonist really feels, look at his work. That’s enough.”

4. “To me, freedom entitles you to do something, not to not do something.”

5. “Imagine—four years you could have spent traveling around Europe meeting people, or going to the Far East of Africa or India, meeting people, exchanging ideas, reading all you wanted to anyway, and instead I wasted it at Roosevelt.”

6. “He has the obligation to society that any human being has. I don’t think a satirist has any greater obligation to society than a bricklayer or anybody else.”

7. “People are always giving you credit for really wanting to say more than you said.”

8. “I’m free to leave… go wherever I please, do whatever I want; I believe everyone should live like that. Don’t be dependent on anyone else—man, woman, child, or dog.”

9. “I couldn’t play ball. I couldn’t dance. Luckily, the girls didn’t want me. Not much I could do about that. So I started to draw and to write. By the time I got to where I was attracting girls, I was already into work, and it was more important to me.”

10. “I didn’t have a lot of friends. I just walked around a lot and made up stories in my head. Then I’d go home and write them down. That’s how I got started.”

11. “When I was younger, I wasn’t making it, and I was mad at everybody who was.”

12. “Never explain what you do. It speaks for itself. You only muddle it by talking about it.”

13. “I myself do not believe in explaining anything.”

14. “You’d better get your laugh while you’re making your point, or you won’t be doing it very long.”

15. “I believe that if you don’t want to do anything, then sit there and don’t do it, but don’t expect people to hand you a corn beef sandwich and wash your socks for you and unzip your fly for you.”

16. “What you’ve got to say, you say.”

17. “I want to go everywhere, look at and listen to everything. You can go crazy with some of the wonderful stuff there is in life.”

18. “I can write a poem in 10 minutes. I like writing songs; I can write songs in 5 or 10 minutes. My concentration seems very short.”

19. “There was a lot about the military that I thought was pretty silly, but these cartoons weren’t meant to take a poke at anybody or anything. They were meant to make people laugh.”

20. “The child asks, ‘Why don’t I have this happiness thing you’re telling me about?'”

Photo by Alice Ochs/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

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